August 2nd, 2009
Tokyo Yakult Swallows 5
Streak: Lost 1 Last 5: LLWWL
A win was definitely within reach tonight, but a combination of too much bunting and a couple more unfortunate calls by the umpiring staff put the kaibosh on this extra-innings game.
1. Aoki (LF)
2. Tanaka (2B)
3. Fukuchi (CF)
4. D’Antona (1B)
5. Guiel (RF)
6. Hatakeyama (3B)
7. Aikawa (C)
8. Kawashima (SS)
9. Yoshinori (P)
Much like last night, there was way too much bunting going on. Unlike last night, none of the bunts were attempted by a pitcher.
Speaking of pitchers, Tokyo’s starter, Yoshinori (5-5, 3.53), threw reasonably well this evening. His slider was deadly at times, and his blister-prone hand lasted six innings of seven hit, three run baseball. He struck out and walked two over a regimen of 96 pitches. He did not end up factoring in the decision.
As this game lasted 11 innings, we got to see a whole lot of other pitchers out there on the mound. The following pitchers threw the seventh through the tenth innings: Matsuoka (35 appearances; 4 wins-0 losses-0 saves; 2.63 ERA); Igarashi (40; 2-2-1; 2.98); Lim (41; 3-1-24; 0.22); and Oshimoto (29; 1-2-0; 2.81). Those four guys pitched an inning each and didn’t allow any runs to cross home plate.
One worrying thing about that quartet is that three of them have at least 35 appearances already this season. I’ve blamed Takada before for using them when it really wasn’t necessary (maybe it’s part of his adherence to the new ‘Just Play to Win’ mantra?), but I think it’s also fair to lay some of the blame on the offense for not being more disciplined at the plate and wasting opportunities. However, Takada is again implicable because he so often asks his hitters to give outs away (tons of bunts, hit-and-runs, and predictable steals). Naturally, there’s only so much you can do when your manager forces you to give outs away two or three times a game.
Or four. There were four bunts yesterday and another four today. Kawashima’s strikeout in the eigth was intended to be a bunt, but forkballs are pretty damned hard to dig out of the dirt sometimes. He ended up striking out.
Tokyo again got on the board first in this game. Chunichi starter, Nakata, loaded the bases for Hatakeyama to poke one into left. Only Tanaka scored for 1-0 Tokyo.
Chunichi scored one in the second and a pair in the third to flip the tables and make it 3-1 Chunichi.
Tokyo got one back in the bottom of the third when Aikawa’s double plated D’Antona who had earlier singled. 3-2 Chunichi.
Tanaka’s bunt in the fourth didn’t help net the team any runs, but Takada tried again in the sixth. With Kawashima beating out the throw to first on an infield single (he ate a lot of dirt on that head-first slide), Takada pulled Yoshinori in favor of a pinch-hitter-bunter. Keizo did eventually score, but it was due to two consecutive wild pitches by Nakata that allowed him to cross home plate uncontested, yet again negating the value of the bunt. That tied the game at 3-3, but that was it for the inning in terms of offense.
The only thing that Takada gets credit for is the fact that he came out of the dugout for the third game in a row. He jogged out on Friday to very politely question a call at second base (and make sure that Keizo didn’t get tossed after he blew a fuse) and then made it about two paces out of the dugout last night to ask about Yuuki’s ejection for pegging Tanishige in the head with an errant pitch.
Tonight he came out when Aoki was out on a called third strike in which the umpire decided that Aoki hadn’t completely checked his swing on the full count pitch. This was after D’Antona had gotten a little upset over a called strike in an earlier at-bat–to be fair, there was a whole lot of this crap going on in this series, and I saw it happen to Chunichi as well. Bad calls from behind the plate have happened before, and until computers are officially used to control the strike zone, they’ll happen again.
I obviously wasn’t at the correct angle to comment on the location of the pitches in question, and the replays on TV don’t help much either since the cameras in Japan are always placed several degrees off-center behind the pitcher towards the left field foul pole. However, I can say that the check-swing, called third strike on Aoki was highly suspect.
And Takada doesn’t really question calls–he prefers to discuss them. He’s definitely not a manager that the umpiring crew feels that they need to worry about. For the record, and as is expected, his discussions in all three games yielded unsatisfactory results if you’re a Tokyo supporter.
Tokyo bunted again in the bottom of the ninth. This time it was Fukuchi laying one down so that Tanaka could move over to second. And even though they were aided by a two-out intentional walking of Guiel, the birds still weren’t able to score a run. Not that it’s really a surprise given all the empirical evidence (a mountain of data that grows with every passing baseball season) stating that having players other than pitchers bunt is a statistically-untenable idea. Maybe it’s about time to do a follow up on last season’s analysis of sac bunts…
Things got ugly for Tokyo in the top of the 11th with Hagiwara (28; 1-1-0; 4.41) on the mound. Not an ideal situation for Tokyo against a decent offense like Chunichi. Dragons centerfielder, Fujii, had his fourth hit of the evening to get things started for the visitors before Hidenori bunted him over to second (that was Chunichi’s only bunt of the game). Tanishige then struck out to make it look like Hagiwara might survive what was likely the highest-stakes pitching situation he’s had since arriving in Tokyo last year.
However, with two outs Hagiwara walked Koike and then loaded the bases on a single to Ibata. Araki then cleared the bases with a double. 6-3 Chunichi.
Hagiwara was quickly booted and Lee (18; 0-0-0; 3.32) came in to try and find the last out. He beaned Morino for good measure before getting Blanco to pop up for out number three.
The boys put up a bit of a fight, but it was never going to be easy with Iwase on the mound. Aoki and Tanaka started with consecutive doubles that got one run back, and then D’Antona added a third double with one out that brought Tanaka around to score. However, Guiel and Hatakeyama were unable to extend the rally, and the game ended with a scoreline of 6-5 Chunichi.
Due to all of the bunting that went on and the resulting squandered chances, I have no choice but to hold Takada more responsible than I normally do.
TAKADA COUNT: 3
But let’s look on the bright side for a moment because a couple of guys had decent games.
Yoshinori pitched decently considering the weather, and Tanaka went 3-4 with three doubles, a walk, one rbi, and two runs scored.
Despite Aoki’s exasperation after the aforementioned strikeout, plus his getting thrown out at third on a baserunning gamble (absolutely perfect throw by Blanco, by the way), the guy had a decent day at the plate going 2-4, scoring once, and getting walked twice.
Also, Aikawa and D’Antona both had 2-5, 1 rbi nights with D’Antona also adding a walk.
So in the end Tokyo won the series against Chunichi but lost game three in the most painful of manners.
They now have a day off before a three game series in Yokohama kicks off on Tuesday.